Police Information Technology: Assessing Th EfFects of Computerization on Urban Police Functions

By Nunn, Samuel | Public Administration Review, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Police Information Technology: Assessing Th EfFects of Computerization on Urban Police Functions


Nunn, Samuel, Public Administration Review


Information technology (IT) continues to offer public organizations the promise of improved productivity, though analysts periodically question why productivity enhancements in various sectors have not been more substantial (Tenner 1996; Sichel 1997; Brynjolfsson and Hitt 1998). Besides productivity improvement, though, other questions about IT's impact on public administration, staffing patterns, and direct service delivery can be posed (Kraemer and Dedrick 1997). Does increased IT usage reduce or increase the need for administrative staff? Does reliance on IT increase the need for technical staff? Does heavier IT usage lead to more efficiencies and effectiveness? Basic questions such as these are particularly acute in public organizations with tight budgets because sought-after budgeting resources can be used for various combinations of labor and capital (that is, IT investments) (Norris and Kraemer 1996). Presumably some combination is optimal, or at least more efficient than other combinations. The main managerial challenge is often to select the combination that offers the highest promise for the organization (Hendrick 1994; Northrop, Dutton, and Kraemer 1982).

Police agencies, for example, should be especially sensitive to IT productivity issues and the questions raised above. Municipal police departments face important decisions about adding to the computerization of police work through the purchase of equipment and software, digitalization of files, and the use of electronic files to support more automated functions (Northrop, Kraemer, and King 1995). Yet assuming that police budgets (like all public budgets) are limited, decisions to computerize activities require hardware and software purchases that reduce funds available for direct service-delivery personnel. More IT and computerized files and functions may also require more technical personnel to maintain and staff IT activities and functions (Landauer 1996; Burris 1998) and may shift police-agency resources off the street and away from direct service delivery. On the other hand, vendors as well as public managers often characterize acquisition of IT packages as a direct means of improving administrative functions, service delivery, information processing, and intelligence gathering (Rao 1997; Wilkinson 1998). These somewhat conflicting expectations are, in effect, hypotheses that require more analyses, especially given the hype associated with IT applications.

Whether a shift of resources from "street-level" activities to IT-staffing activities actually occurs when police agencies engage in substantial IT investment and computerization raises several empirical questions that are rarely addressed in the public- or police-management literature. For example, if police agencies have more computers and computerized activity, do they have more or fewer sworn officers than less-computerized organizations? Does intensified computerization allow more officers to respond to calls for service, or are some sworn officers pulled from direct service delivery to computer support? Do agencies with heavy computer use have more or fewer administrative staff?. To what extent does computerization increase the number of staff involved in technical support? For instance, other things being equal, police agencies with high levels of computerized files and functions should also reflect a greater share of total employees in technical IT-related positions; to the extent these technical personnel are sworn officers, personnel could be drawn off the street to service IT functions.

These and other questions, linked to empirical relationships among computer hardware, computerized files and functions, and measures of police inputs are examined in this article. The organizational context is the municipal police agency, based on a 1993 cross-sectional sample of 188 cities with populations of 100,000 or more (US Department of Justice 1996).(1) The exploratory analysis focuses on the empirical linkages among computer hardware, files, functions, and a mix of organizational inputs utilized in 1993 within these city police agencies. …

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